The news last week that B&W was offering its loudspeaker lines to the big-box-ish Magnolia stores was the CEDIA dealer’s equivalent of learning that a significant other wanted to “see other people.”
Are you feeling unloved or at least under-appreciated lately? I wouldn’t blame you one bit.
Friday’s B&W announcement was just one more sign that the CEDIA channel just ain’t cuttin’ it anymore in the eyes of AV product manufacturers desperately holding it together during the Great Recession.
In recent years more and more specialty-oriented audio suppliers have expanded distribution to new channels to compensate for declining sales through specialty-AV and custom outlets.
In recent weeks, Onkyo announced plans to sell select AV receivers and home theater in a box (HTiB) systems through Walmart.com, and high-end speaker supplier Thiel added its third online retailer, Amazon.com.
It’s hard not to get depressed about these developments, but I can’t blame the manufacturers for doing what they have do. Afterall, the custom channel has been in decline (in size, not spirit) since the housing market boom went bust several years ago. I can’t imagine any of these distribution changes going over well with my friends whose success has been based on exclusive access to niche products that most consumers couldn’t buy elsewhere or price compare in the Sunday morning circulars.
The only recent news that runs counter to this growing trend was Sony’s announcement late last month that it would be reining in its ES line to serve only qualified dealers in the specialist AV retail and custom channel. That move was perhaps only possible, however, because of Sony’s position of power as one of the most recognizable brands in the world. That manufacturer can have its cake and eat too with broader retail and online sales of some products and exclusive distribution of higher end lines requiring more sales savvy and dealer training.
I don’t necessarily believe that broadening distribution spells doom for the CEDIA ESC, but I do think it will mean that custom dealers will have to re-evaluate the way they do business. Dealers will need to go back to focusing less on the brands they sell and making “easy money” from high margins. Instead the focus should be on adding value with exceptional product knowledge, installation expertise, and unmatched service.
These are, after all, the traits that have always been the hallmark of the best CI guys in the business.